Sunday, July 17, 2011

Buying a Bike Helmet at MEC

So I got a bicycle (an older model Diamondback Sorrento) this year. For FREE! -- Our condo was cleaning up the bike room of abandoned bikes -- those that have been there over a year and with no one acknowledging them as theirs.
Repairs and parts replacement of the somewhat banged up bike at Reckless Bikes (downtown Denman, at the SeaWall) cost more than half what a new bike of the type is worth, and I needed a helmet on top of that.

Mountain Equipment Co-Op was recommended (of course) and I got a middle-of-the-price-range $70 Alpina Spice helmet at MEC's West Broadway location. It was my very first helmet purchase, and I really didn't know what the heck I was doing. Fortunately, the busy but super-helpful staff took care of me.

Something that very much impressed me was how one of the staff members who was helping another customer at the time remembered I was waiting and automatically looked me up as soon as he was able, and snooped around for another staff member who was specialized in the department I needed help with, to make sure I got helped.
Also, the staff member who did help me checked in before she went on her lunch break to let me know she'd be gone a little while, and to see how I was doing before she left.
These are all some really nice customer service touches.
Having a person right at the entrance for initial inquiries (like, "I've never been here -- where do I find _____?") is also handy.

Anyway, I learnt the basics of looking for a helmet:
  • They are all disposable one-shots. Basically, the helmet sacrifices itself for one crash to save your noggin. After it's broken, you really can't trust that it will save you a second time. No matter how much it costs, you should buy another if you bust it.
  • There shouldn't be much more than a 2-finger-width clearance between the top of your nose bridge and the lid of the helmet. Otherwise, it might be sitting too high.
  • When snug on your head,
    • The chin-strap need not be super-tight -- you should be able to slip maybe 2 finger-widths underneath.
    • You should not be able to pull it off when the chin-strap is in place.
    • Just by bending over, it shouldn't slide free or fall off.
    • When you move it around on your head once it's properly on and strapped in, your eyebrows should move -- indicating a tight enough fit without being skull-crushingly tight.
    • The bug-like oval-shaped helmets are really for bicycling only. The rounder helmet-like caps with more side coverage are more "all-sports" and also good for snowboarding, for example.
At MEC, the try-it-out procedure is basically to find a helmet from the store display models that fits you properly then remember the size (a numerical range usually on a sticker on the inside of the helmet). Next, find a model you like. Then find a new one by looking at the box for the size that fits you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Almost time for Ice Cream

The weather's still waffling over whether to give us full-on summer yet, but with enough hot (or muggy) days, it's a good time to think about ice cream.

For ice cream on the go, I'm impressed by the smooth and creaminess of Bella Gelateria (at 1001 West Cordova,  at Burrard) in that exclusive estates waterfront region downtown. Obviously not as many flavours can be crammed into the small store as La Casa Gelato, but if you're a connoisseur of premium ingredients and can feel/taste the difference when something is made with the very best ingredients and elite procedures, then this is the place to go.

If you're at home or entertaining guests, then Breyers (not to be confused with Dreyers) is a good choice. My mom really over-indulged early this summer and bought several boxes of Breyers when it was on sale. So far, I've been very impressed by the not-overly-rich richness of it (sometimes, when something is "too rich", it leaves a fatty or heavy feeling that is contrary to a smooth after-meal landing), but especially with its ability to maintain creaminess -- fresh out of the freezer, it is still soft enough to scoop without bending your spoon, and you can easily bite into it. If you think about it, not having to thaw is very handy.
Many flavours available and box sizes are small enough that you can have several in your freezer without feeling like you needed to commit to one flavour because there wouldn't be enough space for frozen pizza (incidentally on super-sale at No Frills this week -- box of two (2) thin-crust McCains for a few cents less than $5).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finally got Pulled Pork at Re-Up

Re-Up BBQ Foodcart on Urbanspoon

It's been a long time since I'd heard about pulled pork sandwiches at Re-Up (which can be slang for getting more street drugs, BTW), but still hadn't gotten myself over to try one. Well, my birthday had just gone by, and a friend who works downtown offered to buy me lunch. He suggested White Spot especially if it rained, but I knew he was on the clock with just an hour for lunch, so I suggested something casual like Re-Up. Besides, he was a sort of steak and potatoes type of guy and I thought he might like it.

So, we were on for lunch at the Hornby and Georgia location, conveniently close to the art gallery fountain and lots of room to sit or wander amid the bustle of downtown Vancouver. At 1pm, there was practically no lineup. Some drifters coming and going, but clearly the lunch rush was over.

What struck me at first was the teeny tiny silver cubicle that passed for a food stand. It was so small that two coolers had to be set outside to hold ice and drinks. Where was the BBQ for the pulled pork? (And where was the washroom? -- "Any business that will take us.") Our friendly server was happy to tell us everything.

Well, it turned out that all the pork was cooked off-site somewhere in Gastown. Due to the quantity they serve and the speed at which they needed to serve it, the pork (and now, beef for their beef brisket sandwiches) had to be delivered from their Gastown kitchen (which might move soon). It's cooked there, hand-pulled there, vacuum packed, and then sent over to their carts.
In their carts, they boil it in the vacuum bags before taking it out. No flame hits them in case it burns or dries the pulled pork. The result does work well enough -- moist and tender pork separately slathered with sauce once it's stuffed into your bun -- and there's a generous amount of meat for the bun, and it sits on fresh-looking coleslaw.

The sandwich is then carefully half-put into a brown paper bag so that drippings go into the bag and not all over you. Wrapped around that are two napkins -- all in all, a well thought out package for the time-challenged to-go crowd, and a step up from getting it in a cardboard box (like The Kaboom Box, although that outfit also serves salads and poutine, and a box is better for such items), which can necessitate a sit-down just to pull out your burger with the fixings and to catch juice and veggies falling out of it.

It's a good size burger with a generous amount of meat for the price ($7; beef brisket, which I haven't tried, is $9). Not as savory as some renditions of pulled pork where you get more sauce, but that's a matter of personal choice.
 It was also no more than lukewarm. I was assured that they heated it up to the maximum legally allowed temperature of 65 degrees (another drawback of getting it from a cart, I suppose) so it was probably a combination of the cold weather, and the meat sitting on coleslaw in a non-heated bun.

Drinks were about $2.25. Lots of ice in my tea, which ended up tasting thin because of it. On a hotter summer day, that much ice to keep it freezing cold would have been a godsend, though.

There's also an easily overlooked small tip "jar" (clear plastic cup) up front for spare change. Our server said it'd been swiped once, but she yelled at the kid and he brought it back.

Advanced Translink Fare Evasion

When I hopped on the skytrain late Tuesday afternoon, I saw a young man purchasing a ticket from a young woman. That in and of itself was a bit strange since they were both already on the train. It's not the man was getting a cheap ticket to get past Skytrain Police doing gatekeeper duty.

What really got interesting was his explanation. He held up what looked like the receipt and based on what he said, I surmised that it was a Translink fine for fare evasion. He told her that now he'd have a ticket for the "travel period". The upshot of it was that he didn't have a ticket and got a fine. Now he was going to dispute the fine with supposed proof of having a fare which he would try to say he "couldn't find at the time".

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Job Opportunity: Miso Soup Stirrer

Shared by a friend on Facebook -- Vancouver Jobs on Craiglist: Miso Soup Stirrer -- and I just had to check out the actual Craigslist listing before it gets flagged or deleted or whatever.

Posting ID 2487889159 Miso Soup Stirrer

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Kaboom Box - Eat it right there

The Kaboom Box on Urbanspoon

I went downtown on Wednesday to meet a friend with a $20 Groupon (which cost her $10) for The Kaboom Box (at Robson and Granville). It was going to expire in the same week, so time was of the essence.
She'd had their smoked-right-there "World Famous Hot Smoked Salmon 'Salmwich'" before and was impressed, so I aimed to try it. She opted for their Gulf Island Fried Oyster Po'Boy.

We  walked from the stand at Robson and Granville to the very quiet park in sort-of-nearby Cathedral Place (925 West Georgia) to have our late lunch and catch-up chat. That, I think, might have been the biggest mistake.

At $7.14 (basically $8 after 12% HST), the salmon sandwich might look a bit small, but price-wise it is actually quite alright if you compare it to, say, Vera's Burger Shack (Granville store online menu). The very red slab of salmon is big enough to peek out from under the about average sized bun, and sits on coleslaw.
The online description reads, "Hot smoked on the cart, our salmon is local, wild caught, Oceanwise Certified, and some of the best fish available in Vancouver. The salmon is smoked fresh and served on a toasted whole wheat bun with a touch of spicy mayo and our house-made maple-mustard slaw. Taste it and you'll see what all the buzz is about!"
I went in without reading this first, and maybe because I wasn't watching for it, I missed any kick from spicy mayo, nor any sweetness or tang from maple-mustard. Although the salmon seemed nicely smoked (almost break-apart tender, and still moist), what dominated the flavour was that fishiness that comes with salmon. You don't always get it (or get it very strongly) depending on how it's prepared, but it came through very clearly in the burger I had. If you don't like this aspect of salmon much, you might want to give the salmon salmwich a pass.
Also, in discussing it later, we agreed that the coleslaw could have been maybe colder and crisper. But in hindsight, the walk over to Cathedral Place might have killed it as all that time, the it would have been sitting under the hot, grilled salmon fillet.

My friend's oyster burger (also $7.14; and it's not a "real" po'boy by strict definition) turned out to be a fluke disaster. It had weird bitter and sea-like taste that totally turned her off, and when we did an autopsy with a plastic fork, we found chunks of dark green-grey matter which, truth be told, looked like the sort of poop you might find in prawn "veins" (i.e., prawn intestines).
However, as filter feeders, oysters don't really retain any poop. It was more likely some remnant of the algae that is fed to oysters in some oyster farms. When oysters are sold shucked, after taking them out of the shell they are washed in part to to loosen and remove stuff like that. So, it's probably just bad luck that the oyster she had retained some of that residue.
At the time, we were all confused, and I think the folks at The Kaboom Box were mystified by it as well. In any case, they advised her to chuck it and kindly offered her a replacement; she opted for a salmon salmwich.

Overall, this first impression of The Kaboom Box didn't wow me, but it's okay for its price. Your experience may be better if you eat it right there right away, though. And if you get the oyster po'boy, that's definitely advised as you can immediately exchange it if you get an unlucky oyster.

The last illusion of a sure thing being disenchanted from the senior end

I happened to read an article today about Late-Life Divorce. The summary: "It might be more common than you think. Why some older couples are calling it quits after decades of marriage."

My own parents wanted to call it quits after the stress and resentment of a move to Canada, wild fluctuation in family finances, and fundamental differences in financial risk tolerance. All of which led to a confusing love-hate situation -- or perhaps more accurately, a gratefulness-anger situation. Grateful for what each does (and have done) for the other, yet really unable to reconcile that with their differences and accumulation of unresolved arguments.

I've always thought of marriage as being a sort of idealistic illusion. I mean, what is it, exactly?
The ritual of marriage typically has everyone come together to acknowledge that two people are now "attached" -- and therefore are off limits. This is further enforced with generally commonly acknowledged terms and connotations for adultery -- which is even more strongly connoted by the term "cheating".
But what is the reason behind this?

I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. I, ____, take you, ____, for my lawful (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

The vows spoken in a (Roman Catholic) wedding touch on some of the deepest insecurities and fears of any relationship, but overall it is a promise to each other that they won't leave the other person. That they won't be lonely anymore. And implicitly there is an agreement from society to police that promise against threats from within (the taboo against divorce) or without (the concept of adultery).
Loneliness remains one of the personal crises of the modern age. In fact, 19% of calls (in 2010) to the Vancouver Crisis Centre had loneliness as one of the main concerns.

Perhaps people who truly have many supportive and active friends (as opposed to mere acquaintances) are not as at risk of loneliness and therefore not as quick to latch onto the first person who shows a deep interest in them, nor as committed to them merely for the alleviation of loneliness.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tea Sangria recipe from The Urban Tea Merchant

You may know various recipe spinoffs of the Spanish/Portuguese sangria. Here's an interesting non-alcoholic one from The Urban Tea Merchant, available in-store on free, handy postcards.
No space in the fridge for everything? You can enjoy it in-store for a limited time.

  1. Place 8 teaspoons of tea leaves into a cotton filter or envelope and place into a 1 litre glass jug. Suggested teas are:
    • Alfonso (black tea with rare mango and flowers)
    • Number 4 (green tea with cherry blossoms and pomegranate)
    • Jade of Africa (rooibos with red berries and sunflower petals)
  2. Add 3 cups of filtered water (cold or room temperature), 1 cup of white grape juice, and 3 tablespoons of fruit syrup.
  3. Place jug into refrigerator and allow to steep for at least 2 hours.
  4. Remove tea leaves and add fresh fruit (sliced apples, oranges, strawberries, and peaches).
  5. Pour into tall glasses and garnish with orange slices. Enjoy!

tea sangria postcard (front)

tea sangria postcard (back)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beautiful Afternoon Tea at The Urban Tea Merchant

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

(Photographs courtesy of my dining companion.)

table setting - bowl of brown sugar
(What is TWG Tea?)

Had a very unrushed, relaxed, tea service at The Urban Tea Merchant (Georgia / Alberni location) on Monday to get together with a friend I hadn't seen in a very long time.

From the get-go, the experience is calm, friendly, polite -- like something you might receive at the highest calibre of restaurant dining. The food is carefully crafted to look neat and beautiful, with little touches here and there to raise it from the ordinary: For example, chocolate dipped strawberries had three drops of white cream (?) to add decoration and interestingness to them; and miniature waffle cones had sesame seeds to add to the aroma of the waffles, which held very rich fillings, and which were smartly dressed in gold foil wraps.

This is definitely quality over quantity, and with it comes a very appropriate ambiance and excellent service. The tea service is comprised of one or two-bite samplings, each carefully prepared and with a richness that may catch you off guard if you're not expecting it. At the same time, the rich feel isn't so overwhelming as to be greasy, which can sometimes be the case. For instance, the scones had enough butter to be in the aroma, but not so much that butter dominates the smell and flavour.

Unless you eat like a bird, you should not expect to walk away from their Afternoon Tea feeling full despite the price at which it is offered -- but that isn't the point of Afternoon Tea (and there is a not-a-tea-service menu which I will have to return to try at some point). Afternoon Tea is more like a selection of delightful desserts to be savoured while you unhurriedly pass the time in delightful company.

For our noon get-together, we chose the Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea (on for a limited time), and Sweet Share Plate. Faced with the bewildering array of tea, we opted for a rooibush and let our server suggest two scents to try, which turned out to be Jade of Africa and Lemon Bush.

We were started off with a lemon sorbet with a sliced strawberry at the bottom. As sorbets go, this was the creamiest I'd ever had, and more ice cream than sorbet, which typically has a ground-ice texture. The mango flavor was also very intense.

mango sorbet

At this point, I must confess I found the Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea to be somewhat disappointing, as the only thing that really leapt out at us as being Indian was a sandwich with a curried filling. As far as a tea service selection went, you had sandwiches on the bottom tray (with some pickles and olives on the side), a couple of waffles with creamy fillings, a single scone with cream and jelly on the middle tray, and a dessert tray on top with a mini-burger-like macaroon/macaron (which had the look of a biscuit that would fall apart inconveniently at one bite, like an Oreo might, but which held together very nicely) and a chocolate-dipped strawberry.
As we each had one tray, our macarons were different, evidently randomly drawn from a stash of various flavours.

taste of india petite afternoon tea 4

taste of india petite afternoon tea 3

taste of india petite afternoon tea 2

taste of india petite afternoon tea 1

The Sweet Share Plate was half fresh fruit (with sad-looking grapes, unfortunately) and a half sampling of two random macarons, two "sparkling cookies" (like brownies and covered in sugar), four small truffles, two random patries, and two chocolate-dipped strawberries.
I'd be curious to see if (for example) three diners would get a slightly smaller selection but samples selected in threes.

sweet share plate 2

sweet share plate 1

The bill came out to a clean $60 before taxes, $80.20 after tax and tip.

For interestingness, The Urban Tea Merchant is no ShakTea, but those looking for a more traditional looking and tasting tea service in a brighter and more western-looking room should definitely drop by. The tea salon is "in the back" with an entrance facing the quieter Alberni Street rather than the main thoroughfare that is downtown West Georgia.

The store itself has many beautiful and ornate things -- definitely more than just tea, and with the exotic ambiance of India and Africa and a selection that includes beautifully bound journals, chocolate spreads, bathroom products, and rich tablecloths. Worth a browse if you've never been.